Derry will go forward with a Special Election Oct. 13, after the Town Council unanimously approved it in a Sept. 23 special meeting.
With Vice-Chair Albert Dimmock in charge and Chair Tom Cardon participating by speakerphone, the Council voted on a date for the election so residents can make their opinions known on eight “referendum petitions” dealing with budget votes by a majority of the Council.
Dimmock called the meeting to order and reminded the 100 or so residents in the Council chambers that it was not a public forum. He then recognized Councilor Richard Tripp, who asked his fellow Councilors to set a date for the election “for the convenience of the town.
“I am asking you to set a date of Oct. 13, 2015 for the special election as ordered by the Rockingham Superior Court,” Tripp said.
Superior Court Judge David Anderson mandated that the town set a date and stated that he would find them in contempt of court if they didn’t.
But, Tripp said, the voting will be contingent on the Town’s not prevailing in its appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The only discussion in the meeting centered on the date itself, with Councilor Mark Osborne questioning the practicality of a Tuesday date. “People want this to be a significant election,” he said. “Why not have it Oct. 10, a Saturday? That way more people could get out.”
“I’ll defer to Denise, but I don’t think the timing will allow for the 10th,” Cardon said.
Town Clerk Denise Neale said it wouldn’t. The timing is tricky, she said, with the Supervisors of the Checklist required to post notice of a session seven days before, and the checklist mandated to be closed 10 days before the election.
“We are adhering to the RSAs (state statutes),” Neale said.
The Council voted 7-0 to approve the date for the special election, and the decision was met with applause.
“I’m so happy,” Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said after the meeting was adjourned. “This has been a long process. A lot of people were upset. However it turns out, we’ll live with it.”
Councilor Joshua Bourdon also expressed relief. “Regardless of how it turns out, I’m happy people have the opportunity to vote,” he said.
Bourdon thanked his colleagues for “agreeing to meet us in the middle.”
“I’m excited to be able to get to work on other things,” Bourdon said.
While Osborne stopped short of saying he was “happy,” he agreed with the other Councilors that it was a step forward.
“Tonight’s meeting was about seeing that both parties’ rights will be preserved,” he said. “All parties agreed that the appeal will continue to go forward, without violating the court order.
“This is a necessary step,” Osborne said.
Osborne said if the appeal is accepted by the Supreme Court, it will be heard by five judges. “It is not uncommon to have civil litigation while an appeal is pending,” Osborne said, “or to have certain subsidiary motions filed.”
It’s similar to a criminal case, Osborne, an attorney, observed, explaining, “Your sentence is still in place until your appeal is accepted or denied.”
But he’s glad to have the acrimony out of the way. “We were at a crossroads over one issue, and now we can get back to the team environment I’m very proud of,” Osborne said.
On the sidewalk after the meeting, Brian Chirichiello, one of the petitioners and a former Town Councilor, said he was happy and relieved.
“Checks and balances are what this is about,” Chirichiello said. “It’s a smart move for the four of them.” He was referring to the four Town Councilors – Dimmock, Cardon, Osborne and David Fischer – who had voted for the budget cuts and against holding an election.
At issue are eight referendum petitions asking the Council to overturn its 4-3 votes of May 19. The petitions ask for a reversal of votes on cuts to police personnel, cuts to police overtime, cuts to fire personnel, cuts to fire overtime, cuts to public works personnel, cuts to public works overtime, elimination of the Human Resources Director position, and closing of a fire station.
A loose coalition of residents created the referendum petitions after the May 19 budget vote in which Cardon, Osborne, Dimmock and David Fischer voted in the majority for the cuts. A referendum petition, according to town charter, requires the Council to reverse its votes on issues spelled out in the petition or to hold a special election. A referendum petition must be signed by 20 percent of the amount of residents who voted in the last election.
The petitions were presented to the public June 8 and 12, received the required number of signatures, and were presented to Neale. In a special meeting July 28 the majority of the Council voted not to honor the petitions, and three residents, Chirichiello, Neil Wetherbee and Jenna Paradise, took the Council to court. Anderson heard arguments on Sept. 9 and made his ruling Sept. 14, mandating that the special election be held.